Emilie Cushman of Kira Talent tells us about serving the higher education admissions community.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Emilie Cushman: Overall, I am good! I am based in Toronto, Canada, right in the downtown core (so I definitely wish I had a big backyard through this pandemic). My partner and I have been relatively fortunate throughout 2020 because of the work that we do. Kira Talent has accelerated our growth to meet the digital demands of the pandemic, and my partner, as a Toronto Firefighter, has been an essential worker throughout the pandemic. Both of us have stayed healthy.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Kira Talent.
Emilie Cushman: I founded Kira Talent 9 years ago while I was in my 4th year of university. The company originated out of an accelerator program called The Next 36 (now NEXT Canada). The original idea was to develop an asynchronous timed video interview platform to save large companies time and money while hiring high-volume or high turnover positions. However, serendipitously, our first client was the Rotman School at the University of Toronto. As we started developing the technology, we realized there was a gap in the higher education admissions space that could benefit from an innovative technology solution. We quickly pivoted to become an education technology company and have continued to serve the higher education admissions community.
How does Kira Talent innovate?
Emilie Cushman: Kira creates technology to make the admissions process for universities more holistic. While the traditional admissions process relies heavily on grades, test scores, and essays, our platform allows schools to incorporate a more efficient, effective, and fair admissions process through asynchronous video and written assessments, as well as structured live interviews. We’re always looking to our clients and the market to understand what problems we can be solving for admissions teams.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Emilie Cushman: Kira has been very fortunate throughout the pandemic because our suite of products is inherently amenable to supporting remote work. Our asynchronous assessment and live interviewing tools help schools adopt a more efficient, effective, and fair admissions process while being completely video-based. The pandemic started right in the middle of interview season, and we were able to help schools transition their processes quickly and effectively. Within a matter of weeks, we had a huge rush of programs that were on-boarded to our platform. Our business has grown significantly over the past year, and we have greatly accelerated our product roadmap accordingly.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Emilie Cushman: While the pandemic has forced many businesses to make difficult decisions about staff layoffs and furloughs, Kira was fortunate to be able to add to our team throughout 2020, with plans to continue growing throughout 2021.
In terms of general lessons learned about building a high-performing team, one of the best principles we’ve stuck to is maintaining our values-based hiring process even when we needed to hire people quickly to fill gaps. It can be so tempting, when your team is completely overwhelmed, to hire a new person to quickly fill the role, even if that person isn’t the best fit. We have made this mistake several times in the past, but we’ve also seen the long-term benefits of sticking to our process, even if that means passing on candidates in the short term so that we could ultimately find the right candidates that would benefit our team in the long term.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Emilie Cushman: At Kira, we’ve always prided ourselves on providing amazing client service, offering white-glove treatment to all of our programs. With the onset of the pandemic bringing a surge of new clients, we re-allocated resources internally to ensure our clients received the same level of care. We also made it a priority to increase communication internally and externally so that we could do our part in helping our clients navigate the new normal they were finding themselves in. We’re lucky to have amazing, highly engaged clients who are as committed as we are to creating the future of admissions. This year we were able to form a number of new advisory boards across several different verticals so that our clients have the opportunity to collaborate with us in shaping our product roadmap. Client centricity is one of our core values, so having the voices of our clients with us as we develop new features in such a critical time of change is one of our greatest advantages.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Emilie Cushman: Since we did not experience a dip in our revenues, we didn’t benefit from many government programs. That being said, we certainly took advantage of the rent relief that our office space provided! We continue to work fully remotely as a company.
Your final thoughts?
Emilie Cushman: I believe that COVID-19 has had a huge impact on education and has accelerated the adoption of technology in education and admissions by about 5-10 years. Even though many schools spent a disproportionate amount of time recruiting and interviewing in person prior to the pandemic, we have now heard them say that thanks to the benefits they’ve experienced with new technologies and updated processes, they will not be going back to their pre-COVID methods.
More importantly, this past year, we have seen a huge shift in attitudes around equity, diversity, and inclusion in the admissions process. Thanks to remote admissions solutions, we’re also seeing new benefits emerging. These include: reducing reviewer bias by having multiple reviewers independently evaluate applicants, as well as promoting a fairer admissions process by eliminating travel and time- and cost-related barriers.
The latter of these benefits has become especially apparent with Kira’s Live Interviewing tool. Admissions teams are able to conduct live interviews, whether it be for MMIs, panel interviews, or one-to-one interviews, with a platform that is specifically designed for the way their team interviews. About half of Canada’s medical schools are already conducting their MMIs with Live Interviewing, meaning that thousands of prospective students were able to save their time and money by being able to interview from the safety and comfort of their own homes.
Kira is proud to offer holistic admissions technology to over 600 programs around the world, and we continue to evolve and grow to better serve the higher education admissions community.
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